By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (April 15, 2016) —Looking ahead to the anticipated matchup in the Western Conference finals, the record-breaking Golden State Warriors (73-9) and San Antonio Spurs (67-15), the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, should provide a compelling (and epic) showdown.
I reached out to longtime NBA coach Herb Brown and retired columnist Peter Vecsey to get their views on this enticing duel. Both offered their assessment of keys to victory for the title-chasing squads.
Brown, whose NBA coaching career spanned five decades, has seen enough playoff battles to know the schedule could be a big factor.
“Home-court advantage might be the decider,” Brown declared.
“Both teams have to remain healthy,” he insisted before adding, “no back-to-backs can help the Spurs older guys, but they have to be healthy and get their rest.”
For Golden State, Brown rattled off the following keys to knock off the Spurs:
1. Protect home court.
2. Do not turn the ball over.
3. Must make high percentage of 3-point attempts.
4. Transition offense — easy baskets — second-chance points.
5. Must play defense versus Spurs’ great ball movement and ball reversal.
6. Run Spurs’ bigs and contain Leonard and Parker.
For San Antonio, he pinpointed the following aspects of the game:
1. Limit Warriors fast break baskets and second chance points
2. Contest all 3-point shots. Must “Marry” (Defend) Curry and Thompson.
3. Rebound 3-point misses. Long rebounds.
4. Establish their tempo and inside game.
5. Make Curry, Thompson and Green defend.
6. Win the rebounding game.
7. Win free-throw game.
“It’s a very tough matchup,” Brown stated. “Very tough matchup. Both teams will try to establish their own tempo and rhythm and impose their will.”
Here is Peter Vecsey’s unabridged analysis.
Keys for the Spurs
l. The Spurs — Aldridge, Diaw, Leonard and Duncan — must punish their defenders below the free-throw line to such an extent that the Warriors’ big men, who aren’t in foul trouble, are forced to play more minutes than usual, thus keeping Small Ball to a minimum.
2. Curry must be incessantly attacked defensively (preferably by lengthy Danny Green) and offensively. Tony Parker or whomever Curry covers, must stay intimately involved with the FGA column, hoping ultimately to wear him down in contested games. The Spurs must double the ball once he crosses midcourt whenever and wherever he has it. They don’t want him shooting remotely open shots (get over the damn pick and scream at the refs every time for not whistling it as moving) or positioned to set up teammates for relatively easy looks. That means never, ever leaving him to help out (it’s called a box-and-one) on another Warrior, which tends to happen with baffling frequency.
3. Regardless of how often Harrison Barnes or Andre Iguodala, or, for that matter, anyone else not named Steph Curry or Klay Thompson (yes, Draymond Green, too), accurately dial from long distance, the Spurs must accept them draining bloodshots, if able. If I were assigned to Barnes, I’d repeatedly remind him before he flicks his wrist, about his pending free agency and how much money is at stake.
4. The Spurs should not overly rely on Kawhi Leonard’s jump shooting. He’s much more effective (and the team is better off) as an afterthought instead of the first or second go-to guy. The more offensive he gets, the less defensively efficient he becomes. San Antonio can’t beat Golden State four times in a seven-game series unless seven or eight players share the wealth, and two of the major contributors must by Parker and Manu Ginobili, whose infiltration is indispensable, as is their prudent baby sitting of the ball.
5. Age and glacial moving feet seemingly reduce Duncan to a non-factor status. Except his primary comp is Andrew Bogut. Should Timmy not outplay him, The Big Fundamental may very well call it a career without Yahoo getting so much as a sniff of the story.
Keys for the Warriors
1. The Warriors must pick up where they left off in their record-breaking 73-9 regular season. The key to ultimate success is defensive portability. When they go small, numerous players are capable of covering 1-thru-5, playmakers to pivotmen, and all points in between. Meaning every assignment is instantly switchable without creating a mismatch or losing flexibility. Meaning they’re on location to win even when not dropping shots.
2. Steve Kerr does a very good job of insisting on ball and body movement, which puts his players in place to be successful. Ultimately, the ability of Curry and Thompson to hit shots is reliant on spreading the floor and capitalizing on opponents’ inability to make correct decisions when faced with countless high pick-n-rolls that result in cuts-and-slashes and slips-and-lobs. Big or small, they’re almost all excellent passers.
3. For acclaimed heady players, the Warriors often are very careless ball handlers and passers. Curry always has been that way, probably because he’s so confident in his skills which often translate into a lefty cross-court, out-of-bounds fling as often as it does into a sensational assist. Trap Steph ardently and relentlessly and he’s apt to turn it over. Green, too, for all his double-digit assist games, is untidy and undisciplined. Kerr readily admits his team showed severe slippage in this area over the last couple weeks. Fact is, it had been happening for months because the Warriors were up 20 or more so early in so many games. Hence, they developed bad habits offensively and defensively that all but became acceptable. Kerr has two rounds to reverse that slide.
4. From where I’m sitting in front of the TV, it sure seems the Warriors’ understudies are vastly underrated. Not only do they maintain entrusted leads, they expand them. Iguodala was the MVP in last season’s Finals. Shaun Livingston, a calm leader, is superior at either guard position, never failing to stay true to his identity. An enforcer who enjoys his role, Festus Ezeli is a strong rebounder and defender, whose lone flaw is bad hands. Mo Speights is a 6-9 version of Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson. Leandro Barbosa piles up points in a hurry. Meanwhile, Brandon Rush, Anderson Varejao, James Michael McAdoo and Ian Clark would almost make the Knicks and Nets respectable. No wonder Kerr doesn’t hesitate to mingle the first and second strings; everyone knows their job and their place.
5. Curry has no sweat glands.
Bruce O’Neil, president of the United States Basketball Academy, dished out the following insight via email: “Obviously, the Warriors are special. Their unique blend of high-light talent, incredible shooters and selfless role players make their offense almost invincible. When you add their intensity on defense, this is a very unique combination that few NBA teams in any era have ever measured up to. Chemistry is something you can’t coach, and they have it. The Spurs have a similar makeup but without the youth and special firepower that ignites their incredible runs and fuels their crowds.” …
Here’s the link to an interview I did with Peter Vecsey last year: https://edodevenreporting.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/peter-vecsey-who-needs-deadlines-discusses-his-upcoming-book-and-the-stories-behind-the-stories/